FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — Researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks are working on a new way to forecast seismic activity in central Alaska by examining low-frequency earthquakes.

Seismologist Carl Tape and his colleagues have been examining earthquakes that have energy waves occurring at much lower frequencies in an effort to better understand what leads up to the seismic activity, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Tuesday.

While two energy waves, called P- and S-waves, are associated with typical earthquakes, low-frequency earthquakes don't have these waves, Tape said, a professor at the university's Geophysical Institute.

"The fundamental question is how to understand the physics and mechanics of earthquakes," Tape said. "I can explain it so simply but I cannot give you a reliable prediction. We want to understand the other processes before earthquakes."

The research is centered on 13 seismic monitoring stations in the Minto Flats fault zone, which runs under the Tanana River west of Fairbanks. The researchers are attempting to gain a better idea of how the earth slips and how earthquakes begin, which could lead to predicting when an earthquake might occur, Tape said.

"If we can understand how and when rocks slip past each other, then we start going in the direction of how and when earthquakes might happen, but there's a big knowledge gap right now," Tape said.

The National Science Foundation's Division of Earth Science has supported the project. The research is examining a complex process through a different vantage point, said Luciana Astiz, the division program director.

"This study reports the first observations of a slow process that transitions into an earthquake — something previously observed only in laboratory experiments," Astiz said. "These new observations contribute toward understanding the physics of earthquakes."

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com